Features and Columns · Movies

Paul Schrader and the Redemptive Act of Watching Movies

“Only The Audience Forgives”
Hardcore Schrader
By  · Published on October 28th, 2022

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at the role of the theme of redemption in the films of director Paul Schrader.


When people tell you that “it’s up to the audience to derive meaning” from a challenging or inscrutable film, I think it’s fair to want to roll your eyes a little bit. It’s a totally understandable gut instinct: being shouldered with that kind of responsibility can feel like a bit of a cop-out. Why should it be my job to do the heavy lifting of coming up with your thesis, movie? Isn’t that a sneaky way of divesting yourself from taking a risk and making a thematic stand on, for instance, whether or not a character is good or evil?

Well, the following video essay is a good reminder that leaving things “to the audience” isn’t always laziness or cowardice. The video pairs visuals from Paul Schrader‘s Hardcore with excerpts from the director’s thoughts on the redemptive power audiences wield. The 1979 film was Schrader’s second feature film as a director and tells the story of a strict midwest Calvinist (George C. Scott) who travels to California when he learns his runaway teenage daughter might be involved in sex work.

In the audio — which I won’t spoil because Schrader’s turns of phrase and metaphors are best heard first-hand — Schrader describes how audience members forging their own judgments about characters, their decisions, and whether they deserve pity is the backbone of why art should exist. In other words, per Schrader: art shouldn’t tell us how to feel. It should ask us difficult questions. Does this complicated human’s actions make them a bad person? Would you have behaved differently?

Watch “Redemption Be Damned | The Cinema of Paul Schrader”:


Who made this?

This video on Paul Schrader’s thoughts on the audience’s role in redemption is hosted by the folks at Little White Lies, a film-obsessed magazine based in the United Kingdom. Peet Gelderblom edited this video. You can follow Little White Lies on Twitter here. And you can check out their official website here. You can subscribe to their YouTube account here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).